More than two decades after it was first discussed, a community center is set to open near Lake Johnson in West Raleigh.
The Thomas G. Crowder Woodland Center, which will celebrate its grand opening and dedication Oct. 15, will host community programs and classes, including yoga, meditation, nature photography, painting and youth-based nature labs.
The $2.6 million city-owned facility is tucked into the wooded eastern side of Lake Johnson near Athens Drive High School and the Lake Johnson pool.
Park manager Mark Elmore said he hopes the center will take give Lake Johnson visitors a new way to enjoy the more than 300 acres of land surrounding the lake.
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“Lake Johnson is a very popular park for many different reasons for many different people,” he said.
Raleigh leaders named the woodland center after Thomas Crowder, who served on the Raleigh City Council starting in 2003. He died of cancer in 2014 at the age of 58, and his wife, Kay Crowder, was appointed to his council seat that represents West Raleigh.
“He was a champion for the city, being what it is today and certainly for District D,” Crowder said.
The city first floated the idea for a large community center at Lake Johnson in 1993, but Raleigh didn’t have a plan to pay for it until 2007, when the project was part of a voter-approved parks bond.
Originally, the city wanted to build on a 12-acre site off Lake Dam Road, but many worried a building and parking lots would disrupt the area.
Raleigh leaders held public meetings before choosing the site on Jaguar Park Drive.
“At the end of the process, Thomas felt as if it had been a work of love and dedication and the bringing together of the community,” Crowder said.
The roughly 5,000-square-foot facility, designed by Chapel Hill-based Szostak Design, was built in a way that preserves parking spaces for the pool but leaves space for trees, said project manager Shawsheen Baker.
The interior walls are painted a warm terra-cotta — Crowder’s favorite color.
A curved wall features a bay of windows for small exhibits that can be seen from the outside. In the rear, the building has floor-to-ceiling windows that allow visitors to gaze into the treeline and maybe catch a glimpse of the park’s winged wildlife including ospreys, eagles and herons, Elmore said.
A large outdoor deck, elevated about 20 feet off the ground, contains a sheltered area with rocking chairs and a long pier-like feature for walking into the treeline.
Crowder, who frequents the park and swims at the pool, said she thinks her late husband would have approved of the final product.
Thomas Crowder’s mother, Mary Wilkinson Crowder, and his two children, Rachel Spencer and Garrett Crowder, will celebrate the grand opening and dedication Saturday.
“The beauty in it is that many people would be able to use it,” Kay Crowder said. “And Thomas would be delighted with that.”
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi